Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

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Declining Testosterone Levels at the Altar

August 23rd, 2010 · 6 Comments


The Pope welcomed a gathering of altar servers in Rome. As John Allen notes: 

First, for the first time this year, the female altar servers in attendance outnumbered the males. According to organizers, the balance was roughly 60-40 in favor of females. The official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, pointed to the turnout as a symbol of “the massive entry in recent decades of girls and young women into a role once reserved exclusively to males.” 

This predominance of girls was predictable (anyway I predicted it in my book The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity). Western Christianity has for a long time been regarded as unmasculine. It has been difficult to keep men, especially young men, connected to a church which seems to want to lessen their masculinity.


If an activity is obviously and mistakably masculine (such as soldiering), opening it to women does not make it a part of the feminine sphere. But if a sphere is already regarded as feminine (and Western Christianity is), opening an activity within it to women will make that activity a feminine activity.


The 60-40 split in altar servers mirrors the female-male split in Catholic church attendance. As boys are busy establishing their masculinity at that age, I suspect that the proportion of boy altar servers will decline further.


In many mainline Protestant churches, including the Evangelical church in Germany, women are already the majority of seminarians, and the clergy is being converted into a feminine occupation, like nursing. There are male nurses, but they are rare, and someday we willl have to say male minister, as we now say male nurse.


To further increase men’s suspicions about Christianity, in some denominations, such as the Episcopal, the remaining men are often homosexual. The heterosexual, male minister will be a rara avis in the not too distant future in the more liberal denominations.

Tags: Masculinity · Women in Church

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Liam // Aug 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    The % split only matters if the number of servers (at the pilgrimage but also worldwide) has remained the same or declined. If the number of servers worldwide doubled then the drop in boys/young men serving is not as dramatic.
    By the way I love the photo. That is Archbishop Dermot Clifford in his cathedral. There used to be a seminary across the street from the cathedral but has been closed for a few years now. I could tell stories about that place and feminization.

  • 2 Tony de New York // Aug 24, 2010 at 8:50 am

    In my parish i have counted for every one male there are four females, the priest don’t care that males are not present.

    If u visited any local park in Queens, u can see is full of males latinos playing soccer on sunday while the women are in church.

    I aks:
    What is done to bring back those men to the church?
    Nothing, absolutly nothing!

  • 3 Christian // Aug 24, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Our parish has only altar boys. All our Masses are well-staffed, with the Sunday solemn Mass having around a dozen well-trained servers. The parish in the last 5 years has produced two young priests, and has another in the pipeline.

    More than coincidence?

  • 4 Joseph D'Hippolito // Aug 26, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Leon, you talk about Western Christianity being seen as feminine or feminizing. What about Eastern Christianity, particularly Orthodoxy? Do you see conservative evangelical Protestants going down the same road? What role do you think the veneration of Mary has on this trend?

  • 5 caroline // Aug 26, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    So the argument is that if women are not allowed to do something, the men will step up to the plate?
    As in the above entry.

    What if nobody steps up to the plate?

  • 6 Kathryn // Aug 27, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Does your book propose a solution to this problem?

    I am inferring that you view this as a problem.

    Sorry to say it - I get the impression that not only am I a complete failure at understanding why behavior characteristics carry more weight than biological fact in a male outlook, but I also think that while there is some sort of demotion of the male state if women take up the same privledges and responsibilities, the women are not making big gains.

    We seem to by our very state be impoverishing these new roles by attempting and even excelling at them. Wonderful.

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